As I concluded a recent session of Extension's Dining with Diabetes class, a student asked whether I could address the "elephant in the room." I wasn't quite sure what this referred to but quickly understood that the challenge of eating healthfully during the upcoming Thanksgiving festivities was worrying. I was unprepared to answer the question and suggested getting extra physical activity. This wasn't a bad suggestion; but I knew that this fell a bit short in reassuring the student and that this is a concern shared by many.

For most of us, holidays bring excitement about gathering with family and friends and enjoying a super-sized meal with many seasonal favorites. However, for the 122 million in the United States with diabetes or prediabetes, holiday anticipation may be tinged with anxiety about the effects that over-indulgence may have on their health. According to an American Heart Association and American Diabetes Association survey, 49 percent of people with type 2 diabetes experience difficulty managing their condition during the holiday season. Both hosts and their guests with diabetes can take steps to decrease holiday stress.

If you have diabetes, take a deep breath and relax. Once you feel less panicked, consider the ways that you can control your life during holiday celebrations, remembering that a few planned treats are not going to ruin your health — there are ways to enjoy the foods that you love. More deep breaths ... planning is the key to control and being able to enjoy yourself.

There are a number of strategies to use when you will be confronting large meals. Try to keep your other meals during the day their normal sizes and at normal times so that you don't go to a big dinner overly hungry. Offer to make and bring something to dinner that you like and that won't throw you off your plan.

Once at the dinner event, consider the food options and decide which ones you really want and which ones you can do without to keep your carbohydrate intake in the right range — think low starch vegetables and small servings of the potatoes or stuffing.

Eat slowly and don't worry about "cleaning the plate." If you are comfortable letting your host know that you have diabetes, you can ask to have some things at the meal that will be right for you Be specific.

If there are leftovers, you might be able to have something that you really enjoy but skipped for lunch or dinner the next day instead of overdoing it.

Make a plan and invite your friends and family for some physical activity after dinner. Even a short walk will be helpful in keeping your health in good stead.

Finally, remember that you are in charge and you can choose to eat a piece of pie. You can get back on track the next day.

If you are hosting the meal, think about the suggestions above and keep your sampling of food during preparation to a minimum — these calories can really add up. Make sure that your menu includes healthy options like low carbohydrate vegetables and non-alcoholic beverages. You might also make your desserts in individual portions so that you will know exactly how much carbohydrate and fat you are getting.

More deep breaths ... and enjoy your holiday!

Leslie Shallcross is a registered dietitian and the Tanana District health, home and family development agent for Cooperative Extension Service, a part of the University of Alaska Fairbanks, working in cooperation with the U.S. Department of Agriculture. She can be reached at 907-474-2426 or lashallcross@alaska.edu.